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‘Mostly straight’ men are a unique sexual identity, according to this Cornell professor

‘Mostly straight’ men are a unique sexual identity, according to this Cornell professor

Men holding hands

Ritch C. Savin-Williams, a Professor Emeritus of developmental psychology at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, recently wrote a book titled Mostly Straight: Sexual Fluidity Among Men.

In it, Savin-Williams details his research into the lives of men who aren’t 100% straight, but don’t consider themselves gay or bi.

‘If you’re a young man, you might assume that either you’re straight or you’re not, meaning you’re likely gay and maybe bisexual. Yet the evidence suggests that more young men identify or describe themselves as mostly straight than identify as either bisexual or gay combined,’ Savin-Williams writes.

According to a 2011-2013 United States government poll, about 6% of 18 to 24-year old male respondents claimed their sexual attractions as ‘mostly straight.’

‘Yet when these men were forced to choose between straight, bisexual or gay, about three-quarters marked straight because for them bisexual, even if it is understood as “bisexual-leaning straight,” is too gay to accurately describe their identity. Given such constraints, these young men were left with no place to truthfully register their sexuality, thus forcing them to be less than honest,’ Savin-Williams explains.

Researching and writing the book

Over the course of several years, Savin-Williams spoke to 40 men who describe themselves as ‘mostly straight.’

He began this project by researching the sexual and romantic life of straight men. He soon realized there’s a large group of men who had some same-sex attractions, but didn’t consider themselves gay or bi. These men were often left out of prior studies on sexuality. So, Savin-Williams decided to do some research on this particular group.

During his research, he found that there were many studies about the fluid sexualities of women. However, there was a gap in research about men’s sexual fluidity.

‘The mostly straight man belongs to a growing trend of young men who are secure in their heterosexuality yet remain aware of their potential to experience far more. Perhaps he’s felt attracted to or fantasized about another guy to a slight degree or intermittently. He might or might not be comfortable with this seeming contradiction, a hetero guy who, despite his lust for women, rejects a straight label, a sexual category and a sexual description that feels foreign. He’d rather find another place on the sexual/romantic continuum, some location that fits him more comfortably,’ Savin-Williams writes.

Younger generations are more open minded

Savin-Williams notes that it is the younger generations, like the Millennials, who are more open minded about issues of sex and gender. Whereas the older generations are more likely to want to categorize people into rigid boxes.

Savin-Williams credits this to the exposure young people now have into various sexualities and romantic experiences. This could perhaps be due to the Internet.

Are a lot of guys ‘mostly straight’?

‘[Mostly straight] guys are pretty prevalent,’ Savin-Williams tells GSN. ‘There’s actually more of them than gay and bi men combined.’

Yet, Savin-Williams is entirely aware of the stigma surrounding claiming bisexuality as a label.

‘15% of young women say they’re mostly straight in the literature,’ he says. ‘For guys, it’s rare to get more than 5%.’

He credits this to the stigma of men having some same-sex attraction. Adults sometimes telling boys they have to be either gay or straight.

‘We frequently have a difficult time realizing there’s a spectrum, if you will, when it comes to sexuality,’ Savin-Williams states.

‘If we’re going to have labels, I’d like to create as many as possible so people have options.’